Chile Part 1: Santiago

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We flanked our time in Chile in Santiago, but to keep it simple I’m combining our time there.

Turns out, Santiago is far from San Francisco. It’s 7.5 hours to Panama City and another 6.5 to Santiago. Fourteen hours of flights. I don’t think we really thought about this when booking. But, we took a redeye, used miles to go business class, and with only three hour time difference it wasn’t all that bad. Definitely felt far more jet-lag going to Japan. We slept most of the way there, customs was easy, and grabbing the bus to city center was simple and efficient (and $2/person). Avoiding taxis is one of my travel musts. Santiago proved an easy city for this with a robust metro and Uber for if we got lazy. Once we arrived we checked into our hotel and grabbed some street sopapillas before heading to bed. 

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Santiago is much like any big city, divided into neighborhoods we took our days there to explore several of them systematically. It’s not an inherently attractive city, it’s pretty dirty and lots of areas are run down. But, it boasts stunning mountain views on clear days, and the architecture is outstanding.  It’s a fascinating city to wander as the neighborhoods change quickly. We stayed in two areas, the historic center and Barrio Brazil. While a lot of people tend to stay in trendier spots, we found an adorable boutique hotel in Barrio Brazil (Matildas), and it was near the subway so we figured we could get anywhere we wanted anyway. Plus Barrio Brazil has an excellent sandwich shop (Fuente Mardoqueo), more on the sandwich situation later. It also has a lot of character. It used to be an affluent neighborhood, which is visible by the wide, tree-lined boulevards and crumbling grand facades of the old buildings. We found it a perfect place to explore from.

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We spent our days sequentially exploring neighborhoods, through eating, drinking (for those of us non-pregnant people), wandering, museum hopping, and shopping (or I should say, window shopping). When booking this trip I had no idea how I might feel, being 23 weeks pregnant. Though, it was early enough I wasn’t too concerned about all the walking (and later, altitude). And turns out I was right to not be concerned. I felt great! Better than in Japan at 10 weeks where I needed much more sleep. We walked between 6-10 miles most days, and felt fine! But pregnancy to some degree is a guessing game, so I was very happy my body cooperated.

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We explored the historic center with the Plaza de Armas, sprawling Vega Market, and (free!) museums. We ate empanadas, cazuela (soup), and Alex ordered a bizarre (to us) pineapple ice-cream wine drink at a dive bar while the Brazil vs. Portugal match played. We also ate tapas at Bocanariz in Barrio Lastarrio while Alex tried a few flights of wine. I try a few sips and realize how much I miss good wine. There were two distinct downsides to pregnancy on this trip. The first, was wine. Chile has excellent wine and although I could try small sips we couldn’t organize more wine-centric activities. The second was related to the desert, more on that in the next post. We bought exactly zero souvenirs for ourselves, but did pick up some cute clothes/knit octopus for the baby. So we’re counting that.  For an afternoon “snack” we split a sandwich at Fuente Alamana. Anthony Bourdain went here, so we were hoping line/quality hadn’t since declined. But it was fine. Chileans love their steak. And sandwiches. And as a result they make these absurd (and delicious) loaded steak sandwiches. We thankfully decide to split one. We still had a tasting menu to go to for dinner, after all.

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Most trips we opt for one splurge meal. This time we chose Restaurant 040. It’s a “reasonably priced” tasting menu giving us a chance to sample current innovation in Chilean cooking. It does not disappoint. It is a mostly seafood centric menu and everything is phenomenal. The wine pairing that Alex gets is also excellent. We finish with rooftop cocktails (or mocktails for me). Chilean food is excellent, though somewhat limited in breadth. Though, certainly if we had the budget we might not feel that way as Santiago has multiple high-end restaurants serving up new and classic Chilean dishes.

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The classic neighborhood most people explore in Santiago is Bella Artes. Which makes sense, its a small neighborhood crammed with interest. From museums, architecture, street art, food (high end to street), and access to Cerro San Cristóbal for sweeping views of the city and mountains it’s an easy neighborhood to spend a day. We visited the Pablo Neruda house, which was excellent. Coincidently, we read one of his poems at our wedding, which made it seem even more pertinent we visit. We also visited a brewery, and hiked to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal. There is a tram to take you up, but since there is a hike option we obviously chose that. Luckily the smog wasn’t too bad and the clouds burnt off so we could appreciate the view while sipping a mote con huesillo (a rehydrated peach drink with mote-a grain), sort of like a boba tea? Sweaty hikers certainly appreciate it after a somewhat steep 45 min accent.

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Our last neighborhood was Barrio Italia. The “Brooklyn” of the city. First stop a cafe with single origin beans and coffee-tonics. There was a North American family sitting at a table leisurely eating breakfast with their two young kids while playing cards. Perhaps they are ex-pats, or maybe travelers, but its so great for us to see young families out navigating the world with such a sense of calm. Travel is certainly going to change for us in the near future. But it’s reassuring that there are families (and resources-thanks internet!) to help us continue to explore the world, with the addition of new eyes to show all the amazing places.

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After coffee we walked, perused the many, many shops, ate lunch and walked some more. Barrio Italia is known for antiques, so we thought we’d check out if there was any interesting glassware  on offer. After accidentally being buzzed into a shop where it was clear we couldn’t afford anything (and spent an anxious five minutes trying not to break anything), then realizing we didn’t have the Spanish (or general savvy for negotiating) to deal with the situation we went and got single origin hot chocolate instead. We generally found it surprising that few people (outside of tourism anyway) spoke English. Perhaps because we’re used to Spanish speaking countries where English is widely spoken. But luckily our 2-year old equivalent could generally work for us. But it also served as a reminder we really want to learn a second language, and Spanish is a very useful one to know! Perhaps one day we’ll actually do it!

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And that was our time in Santiago. It was a city we knew little about, and had limited expectations for. But it proved to be a great city for exploration. Next up we hop on a plane and head to the desert.

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